For more than one hundred years, the expansive red brick of the historical Saskatchewan Hospital stood out against the landscape of the Battlefords river valley. The brick and stonework of the many buildings built between 1911 and 1913 provided shelter for thousands of individuals across the province with mental health concerns. However, it was the staff, patients, and community that truly made it a home and sanctuary for many individuals. At its peak, the “Hospital” was its own community, gardens, livestock, barns, school, a curling club and much more. Many staff members and families, such as mine, lived in “the block” and or in the colorful homes on the grounds. My own children came home after they were born to a robin egg blue house.
For those who lived and worked at the Saskatchewan Hospital, if the building had a heart, it would have been found in the smokestack. When we were kids returning from a trip out of town, I always recall my parents asking me “can you see the smokestack yet?” It stood like a sentinel, at the center of home. Seeing it in the distance you knew you were almost there.
On April 23, the smokestack disappeared from its watchful spot in the sky. I felt a profound sense of sadness as I saw all that remained was the base and tentative plans about what to do with its top decorative brick. Coming to terms with the barren grounds that was at one time home, I can only hope the brick will be used in a way that honours the legacy of the patients and staff who lived and worked in those buildings.
The stone chapel on the grounds built by a former patient will now have to take on the role of sentinel now. Along with the stone walls and graveyards. Although what remains are now just former parts of buildings, bricks and doors, to many like myself, they are a symbol for the hope, kindness, ingenuity and sense of community that made the original Saskatchewan Hospital into a home for so many people.
The loss of history, atmosphere, and quiet landscape leaves a hole as big as the smokestack itself.